Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, July 28, 2013


A couple of pictures of Deborah Bay, about 5k from our place. 
After Church we sometimes get take aways and park on the shoreline and debrief.
There could be worse places to eat lunch! 

A Good life....
I have been intensely busy over the last couple of weeks and it feels like it is going to keep getting busier. We have had a lot going on with the Night Shelter, and just the normal Church and chaplaincies keep me busy.  By Thursday I had to put together and record a radio Church service. Also by Thursday I had to make sure I had purchased suitable birthday presents for my wife!  I had several letters, emails and phone calls for the Night Shelter and ended the week with some of this work still hanging over my head.  I seem to go to bed tired and wake up tired, with many restless nights. 
My work has a lot of good moments as part of it. Here are some... Last Tuesday I was invited to ride along on a job with ambulance crew. I am always impressed by the way these guys deal with their patients, and felt it was a real privilege to be invited. On Friday I rang up a fire fighter I knew had not been well and found that we fell into easy catch-up conversation on the phone just like long standing friends.  I tried a couple of times, through a visit and phone call, to get hold of another man I knew was to go in for an operation this week.  As I was having lunch I heard he had visited the hospital and then had called into the Church.  I ended up running down the road to catch him, and offered to take him home. When we got there we sat in the van and chatted for an hour - it was real honest, open, friendly conversation.  I came away feeling like it was time well spent. After the drop-in centre on Friday night I visited the Night Shelter and spent time with our new employee.  First thing on Friday morning I had a phone call from a friend of my sister. She simply said, "I lost my husband last night. Can you take the funeral?" One of my visits on Saturday then, was to go up to her house to catch up on her. Much of the work for today's morning service had to be done on Saturday evening and I was pleased that it seemed to go well. I came home from Church and enjoyed an early afternoon nap - I was exhausted! I then loaded up the beds, mattresses and set of drawers that we had secured last Monday and delivered them to the needy family. As I reflect on a very busy week, I am grateful for the variety, the relationships and the meaningfulness in much of my work. I feel like I am making a difference for good.
"They have a massive TV, a better car than us and Sky TV installed!"
I know I should not get all bitter and twisted, but let me share this initial reaction. I spent last Monday gathering together these beds, mattresses and set of drawers for this family. We bought some of the stuff, and worked on installing legs on the bed bases. The family asked for a loan of some money to enable them to go to Christchurch and pick up their daughter and grandson being released from prison. So today as we loaded the mattresses and beds, we also gathered together $120 of cash. (We are confident they will pay it back eventually - they have in the past.) But... when we delivered the beds as I trundled through the lounge I noticed this massive new TV, then I noticed the Sky dish outside and that a Sky channel was showing. They also have a later model of car than we have. My first comment when I got back in our van to go home was, "Why are we doing this? Did you see their TV? They have Sky! Why are we the mugs shelling out money to help them?" Now I know that it is a stupid reaction. They are who they are and they have made their choices. I know also that they are probably paying these things off on a stupidly expensive hire purchase agreement. They are trying to help their daughters and grandchildren and currently have a cash flow problem. I feel the need to support them in that - but my wife did suggest they be encouraged to go to their budget advice person. Before I get all out of shape, I need to heed the statement, "Don't compare your life with others' and don't judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about." If I was unemployable with little else going for me in life, I might choose to blob out in front of Sky TV too. 
Busy week ahead...
If I thought last week was busy, this week will be much more stressful. 

  • I have a heap of stuff to do for the Night Shelter. We have a street appeal coming up and there's a lot of work to be done toward that.
  • I have a hospital appointment on Tuesday - a fun visit to the urology department. This means that the chaplaincy I would normally do at that time will have to be done on another day. 
  • On Tuesday evening I am guest speaker at a Rotary club. I hope I finish at the hospital in time.
  • I have a funeral on Thursday and a lot of work to do in preparation for that. Again it is at a time that I am usually doing a chaplaincy visit so I will have to squeeze that in elsewhere.
  • My daughter and son-in-law will be away next weekend so I will have to do the tasks they usually do for Church on Sunday.
  • Next Sunday afternoon I take part in the dedication of a new ambulance station in a township an hour away from Dunedin.
That gives a picture of a week which has a lot of extra stuff piled on top of the normal work. I will make it, but by the end of the week I will once again be exhausted. I keep asking myself, "How come, at a time and situation in life when I should cutting back, am I getting busier, without even trying?"   I do find things are a little tougher in winter and my "plumbing problems" add a little more stress. Twenty two Sundays to go until retirement!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Mr Swann
We have had a Mr Swann in prison because he defrauded the local Otago District Health Board of $16.9 million. He was sentenced to nine years and six months for his crime. He is to be released next week after just four years and eight months in prison. His share of the proceeds was $15.1 million. They have recovered only $2.5 million through sale of assets. He has been completely uncooperative with authorities who are investigating the whereabouts of the rest of the money or his other assets.  He could conceivably have $12.5 Million of assets or money stashed away. (He was already on a very good salary from the ODHB) His "punishment" was 4years 8 months in prison so he in effect earned himself at least $3 million a year while the tax payer paid for his board and lodgings in prison.  It is a pretty good deal, hardly a punishment! I think because he has shown no remorse and continued to not cooperate with authorities he should not have been paroled. It is another example of several I have encountered where white collar crime is not seen as "serious" and treated lightly. Such crime is a violence against society, costs the community and damages the fabric of society. I favor forgiveness and restoration, but he shows no sign of regret for his behaviour.
Leave Kate and Will alone!
My other gripe is the way we treat the royal family. I am not a raving royalist, I have some skepticism about the whole system. I am, however, quite impressed with Kate and William, they seem to be using their position widely and well, making a difference for others. The first photos of the couple and the baby looked all very nice, Kate smiling suitably and William looking pleased with himself. But if you looked closely at Kate she was watery eyed, looked tired and was probably thinking, "I just want to go home!" I think its pretty tough on a young couple, particularly the mother expecting them to perform just after the birth of a child. Being young parents is a shock to the system. You need to have heaps of private time to absorb all the changes in the family dynamics. I felt sorry for her having to look beautiful, happy and rosy.  Then I open up the local news tonight and they are already assessing Kate's post-baby body and discussing her "bump"! Good grief, lay off will you! The whole thing shows up our perverted and distorted sense of values! We are such a shallow minded society, it really sucks!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Parson's log..

23 Sundays to go.
On Thursday morning I had a session with my Supervisor where we talked about my last few months of ministry ahead and reflected on that. That evening there was a meeting at the Church of the leadership with some of our national denominational leaders where they discussed what will happen when I leave.  Of course I was not part of that meeting. I am fairly sure the whole character of the Church will change, which for me will be sad, but I know I must finish. In some ways my choice to retire is an admission of defeat. My supervisor/counsellor lady was busy in the morning trying to make sure I did not view it as failure. All I can say is, success or failure, right or wrong, I did what I had to do as I saw the role of faith and the Church. I have not been successful in carrying others with me. It was funny knowing that these folks were talking about the future of the Church I had poured 27 years of my life into, and I did not have a say in it. That is as it must be.
Friday Night
On Friday evening we had around 60 through the Drop-in centre. It was a great relaxed night of warm friendship.  People joked, conversed and played games. We sang "Happy Birthday" to a man who turned 65 and throughout the night there were heaps of smiling faces. There has been an older retired chinese man coming who does not look very athletic. I play table tennis with a young chinese guy, but this older man has started to play. He can play very well and I learned that in his youth he was a champion. You can never tell a book by its cover, his talent was a complete surprise. It is great to see him with a broad grin on his face, coming alive. I had to chuckle as we were leaving to go home, Malanie, a lovely Indian lady who attends our Church, called out, "Goodbye Pastor!"  I have been trying in vain to get her and her husband to call me "Dave" for all the time they have been here. They insist on addressing me as "Pastor".  I pounced on her and said, "Next year when I am no longer Pastor, what will you call me?" (thinking I would force her to call me by my name) As quick as a flash, with a twinkle in her eye and a broad grin she replied, "Ex-pastor!"  We had such a good evening yet most of my Church, even some in leadership, have not "owned" the drop-in centre and its work. Very few have ever visited a session in the 18 years we have been running. As I drove home weary but glowing I thought of how much they have missed out on. It is their loss, but it is sad.
Job interviews
As chairman of the Night Shelter Trust, on Saturday morning I was part of a panel interviewing applicants for a job at the Night Shelter. We asked people essentially the same questions and scored their answers to help us make up our mind. There were four applicants for the job, two men and two women. I found it an exhausting process trying to ensure that each had a fair opportunity to share with us their skills and themselves. At times I found myself thinking, "You can do better than that!" so I would ask the question in a better way. One was so frustrating because they did not interview well, yet I think they were better than their answers suggested.  We made our decision and this week we will confirm it. It is the third time I have been a part of such a panel, another interesting experience in life. Our first question to each was, "Why do you want this job?" It was funny. Our final question was, "Is there anything that you want to ask us?" One lady eyeballed us and asked, "Why do you do this? Why are you on the Trust?" - A good question.
Martha and Mary
On Sunday morning the service revolved around the story of Martha, Mary and Jesus. Martha got all upset because Mary was sitting listening to Jesus instead of helping her with her chores. Jesus affirmed Mary's action. I always think Martha was hard done by. I know all the "being" verses "doing" prattle that goes with this passage, but it still remains true that without Martha Jesus would have missed out on lunch! The "Mary's" of this world who sit around "being" don't make a difference. It's the "Martha's" who serve that bring change and advance the human race. I guess we need to be "Mary-and-Martha" involving "being-that-is-expressed-in-action". I still feel sorry for Martha's legacy.
On Friday night we learned of a family needing three beds and a set of draws. I knew of three bed bases being thrown out at a fire station so today we visited and picked them out of the rubbish skip. The legs had disappeared so we purchased three cheap sets of legs.  We bought two mattresses from the Habitat for Humanity secondhand shop to go with a spare we had at home, and a set of drawers. The new van carried all these home easily where we unloaded and with drills, screws and tools attached the legs to the bases. We have them all ready in our spare room to go to their new home. Being a bit of a hypocrite, at one stage I grumped about spending my day off working for others. It will be nice though to express our solidarity in the journey of life with this family, when we deliver them to their house this week some time.
Tonight while my wife cut my hair, we watched the film "Lincoln". I was deeply moved by it. Here was a man who was a great leader, but felt the real struggles and pain of that role. He was determined to make the progress he saw as necessary. It inspired me. In spite of set backs, I will keep on working with the Night Shelter Trust toward owning our building and establishing the Trust on a sure footing. Not big Abe Lincoln type stuff, but "me in my small corner".

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm a van man....

Some pictures of some of the van's I've owned.
My first van purchased in 1971 when we lived on the steepest street in the world. 
"Blue Bess" an old Dodge ambulance we towed our 25ft caravan with. I loved her! 
A little Toyota Lite Ace the fire fighters and brewery workers bought, cleaned up and presented to me.
Our purchase last Thursday night - I enjoy driving her.
A "new"van!
For much of my driving life I have had a van of some sort. Recently I have been "vanless" just driving in civilised fashion in sedans. I began to think that my van days were over, now I was a sedate old man. But after our accident earlier this year, our Toyota Corrolla got written off by the insurance company and we had a generous pay out. We wanted a reasonably powerful vehicle to tow the little caravan when I retire at the end of the year. So the other day we branched out and purchased another old van. My wife was keener than I to get it for some reason. Last Monday we checked out a van we had seen in this place that auctioned off vehicles. We went for a drive in it and my wife was still keen, though I was a little hesitant. On the Thursday night we attended the auction, sitting in this freezing big warehouse space where the vehicles were auctioned off. It was a new experience for us both. Anyway we got the van for the reserve price, and I drove it home, a little concerned about the way it ran. It is a 1996 diesel powered Nissan with an automatic gearbox. (I prefer manuals) On the Saturday, a freezing day, it would not start so I took the battery out and put it on the battery charger.  On Sunday afternoon I replaced it, got the van started and went for a drive in it, again not totally happy with its performance, but I did think we would get our money's worth out of it. On Monday morning we took it for a drive over a big hill to a township about 11 miles north of Dunedin and stopped for a cup of coffee. We then drove into Dunedin via the normal highway, really trying it out. Somewhere in that drive it all came right. It changed to running smoothly and sounding good. (mechanics often call this "The apprentice's tune up" - a good blow out after a vehicle has not had much running)  I have driven it a few times since and it is fast becoming my preferred vehicle. There is just something about a van! It is a bloke's vehicle! I like this one, it is high, long, (it has a back seat and is set up with a queen size mattress behind that.) has a biggish steering wheel, big mirrors, a rumbling diesel motor, bull bars and a massive great windscreen through which you can see the world. I just love the feel of it, you can imagine you are driving a truck. It will be a versatile vehicle. I really am a van man. It was cheaper than usual because it has a dented front to it, but that does not worry me. My cars are definitely not status symbols. This van just feels like it fits me! 

Monday, July 15, 2013

I am out of step ... but that's where I am in the journey of life.

Eyes glazing over....
When I begin my preparation for each Sunday's service I read and print out the set Bible readings often on a Monday evening. ) Then on the Tuesday, usually as I have a morning cup of coffee, I listen to a couple of podcast discussions I have discovered via Textweek. I often find that some comment or perspective sparks my own thinking on the readings. They are very helpful for starting the creative process. But while I am listening sometimes I find my eyes glazing over and I switch off. Why? These are scholars in their field? Somehow what they are saying doesn't gel.
"Show previous page" button...
I also read various other commentators and writers which the site has links to. Once again I find that for most of them I begin to read then fairly quickly hover over the "show previous page" button and click on that to search for other more "real" resources. Sometimes I begin to think I must be very heathen or heretical because I find so few who gel or ring bells with my understanding of Jesus, faith or spirituality. I do this with traditional commentaries I have in the form of books also. (except I shut the page and return the book to the shelf - sometimes I have been known to throw it in the fire)
Religious meetings and priorities...
I faithfully attend meetings of ministers to be ecumenical and supportive of others, and to receive a sense of collegiality.  We go around the group and share what is going on in our churches, programs and other things of interest.  So often I find myself feeling out of step. The things that excite them are not the things that excite me. It feels like we live in different worlds. I get promotional information about religious conferences and pastors gatherings that are designed to inform, equip and inspire me. I look through the workshop topics and the keynote speaker emphases and I file the leaflets into the WB file. (waste basket) They are not where I am at.
Preachers' libraries....
My childhood minister died a month or so back and his daughter invited me to look through his study and take what books I like.  The study was like hallowed ground and I felt like I was on a pilgrimage. I looked through his precious books and could hear his preaching, conversation and sense his favourite topics. But from a room full of stacked shelves I only chose a few books and some of those because they were historical books about our denominational history I rescued for sentimental/nostalgic reasons.  I look through the books I have collected in my library, and at least half will soon be firewood! I know of other Christians who would lap up the books. Why not me?

Why is it that I being a Church minister find myself out of step with so much "Christian stuff" that others lap up?
"That's why?!" I gained an insight into the reasons as I walked with my "running friend" last Sunday. (For ten years we have run and recently walked together for an hour on most Sunday afternoons) Her career is in education. Recently she went on a brief OE and finished by attending a work related conference in Bangkok. There she had to make a presentation and I asked her how it went. She said it went OK but then commented on the fact that it was very different presenting in an international setting. She works in New Zealand in the field of Education, but, she said that when you are talking in an international setting you realise that the context in which your listeners are working, teaching and exploring can be very different than you are used to and that you assume as you present.  That helped me clarify why I am out of step and it opens up a big subject.  Just as my friend had caught a glimpse of a wider experiences in the field of education, my journey has led me to see "spiritual things" from a wider perspective and catch a glimpse of a broader spirituality. 

From where I sit...
Sometimes when I am listening to the podcasts, which originate in USA, I find myself saying, "That may be true for the religious scene in America, but it is not true here in Dunedin, NZ.  Our issues are different." There can be a cultural divide between the writer's/speaker's issues and priorities and mine. But it runs deeper than that. I think that much Christian writing and thinking is "in-house" stuff. The priorities are to draw and keep people within a subculture called "the Church". My ministers at their meetings are wrapped up with ecclesiastical/ liturgical issues.  But I spend much of my ministry time in secular settings. (An illustration; I overheard a couple of clergy discussing who their ecclesiastical establishments would allow them to marry in the Church - I take weddings in a brewery, on a beach, in a pub! oh and sometimes in church.)  The conferences I am invited to are about geeing up the Church to be a better, bigger religious subculture, and getting more people in and shaped to fit that mould.  For me the boundaries between secular and sacred are blurred, (maybe non-existant) who is "in" and who is "out" is a non-issue and my goal is to see the Church as a means to an end, a tool for service, not an end in itself.  The religious books are discussing esoteric religious subjects which would be great for a religious version of the "Trivia" game, but meaningless for real life. Most Church life, it seems to me, draws people into a sub-culture that makes them feel safe. It sets boundaries, interprets life and gives some sort of meaning in an in-house way. It often is a religious escapism from true engagement with life. The commentaries, podcasts and discussions often interpret scripture from this in-house perspective and are shaped to support the ecclesiastical sub-culture. But I often feel like it would mean diddly-squat down at the "mess" (lunch room) at the fire station! "What the 'f' you talkin' about?" they would say. What the hell do liturgical cliche phrases mean to the seventy people who came to our drop-in on Friday night? I gave one family some financial help to drive to Christchurch to attend their daughter's parole hearing and visit her baby son which she delivered in prison. Another man with few teeth was off to the Night Shelter, he was out of options, had no hope of a job and has constant back pain. Another lives with voices in his head in spite of the fact that he has been declared "healed" by a number of charismatic pastors.  My worker at the brewery who describes life as a "shit sandwich - you are born and you die, and the stuff in-between is just shit" needs more than cliches. Preachers glibly say "God protects, guides and sustains" but what does that mean to the starving family in Zimbabwe, or the Syrian population struggling for justice and being killed for their hopes or the guys just made redundant from Delta in Dunedin! The commentaries interpret in an exclusive, sub-culture endorsing way such words as Jesus' words as reported in John's Gospel; "I am the way, the truth and the life." But I struggle to accept the truth of that exclusive interpretation when I put it beside the life of Mahatma Gandhi, some of the other truly beautiful people of other religions or even some beautiful firefighters with a wholesome, compassionate and wide perspective on life who cannot accept the sub-culture. "God" or the "Sacred" is "bigger" than this in-house thinking. I cannot accept the interpretation that says in effect "that heaven waits for only those who congregate!" and that millions of humans are blind and dead to the sacred in their midst - because they haven't been to Church.  Other ministers sense a call to a particular Church or a Church related ministry, I feel a call to a city. 
What I am saying is that so much Christian thinking is in-house, exclusive, other worldly and that is not where I am at.  For it to ring bells with me it has to ...

  • ring true with real life and the real experiences of people. 
  • makes sense with the breadth of human experience in this global village that we live in.
  • thrust us out into the world to live more fully, better attuned to the needs of others, more compassionate and with a greater willingness to make a difference in the world here and now. 
To most Christian thinking and activity, I want to scream, "Take your blinkers off, your God is too small, and your fences too high." 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Patching things up until I retire.

Clearing a fallen tree... "When I retire...!"
Yesterday I chopped up a couple of trees that had fallen on the back fence. One had fallen and obviously had brought down the other squashing the fence to the ground. It has been sitting like this for some time because I only get one day off a week and don't get much time to do things around home. But, my wife pointed out, Mary and Joseph, our two goats were getting out and going exploring neighbouring properties. As I fixed the fence I could not help but remember erecting it in the first year of moving here in 1987 - 26 years ago. We had no spare money... at one stage it was actually true that we had no money! I built the fence out of old bits of wood, posts and wire we discovered sitting around the acre. It has lasted 25 years. Bits of the wood have rotted and it looked pathetic smashed on the ground. A new fence is really needed. I don't have time to build a new fence now, so I just patched it up.... when I retire I will build a new one. I look around our sorely neglected acre and the buildings we have and they are just holding together... when I retire I will fix them, sort out the garden and get things neat again. Just now I can only do the minimum. 
It is a bit like that with my health and well being. I feel like I am just holding together. I have my plumbing problems but I used to be fit. Now I am just getting by, with no time to exercise consistently. When I retire...!   I feel emotionally drained. I have bad dreams which I think are an accumulation of all the emotional stress of the stuff I have been doing. Its a bit like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I have sort of "flashbacks" to some stressful situations, funerals, encounters, debates etc. When I retire I will sort it out.  My life seems to be getting busier. A couple of Night Shelter Trust people have resigned and I am getting left with their work. (When the going gets tough ... ???) It is hard to keep things going as well as push ahead with plans for the future. At the Church a congregation of older people growing older has meant that I do a heap of things an average minister does not have to worry about.  In the early hours of the morning when I ought to be asleep my mind goes flat tack trying to sort out the way ahead, particularly in Night Shelter issues. The stupid thing is I am too tired the next day and drag myself around listlessly. When I retire ....life will be easier.  I hope everything around the house and in me holds together until I retire! Thats why when people try to suggest things for me to do in retirement I say "no".  I have so much in life just to catch up on, before I make other plans when I retire. Six months to go!
Sad but nice too.
There is a young chinese man who has come to the drop-in centre and to Space2B who I play table tennis with. I have assisted him at various times in his life when he has had issues. I had a phone call from a medical centre the other day and they wanted to check up on where he lived. It turned out I was listed as his contact person, or "next of kin"! I was surprised. I must be important to him. I thought for a while, "That's nice!" but then I thought how sad that he has nobody else other than an aging minister - no family - no friends who he's closer to, no partner - just me, the guy he likes to beat in table tennis. Then I thought - "What's he going to do next year?" Then I'll be retired! Maybe he and I can go tramping just as two mates? Maybe I can go to a table tennis club with him?

Friday, July 5, 2013

"I'm glad I have been a church minister!"

"I'm glad I have been a Church minister!" Did I say that? Shock horror! Here I am looking forward to retirement so much so that my Skype mood indicator has "26 Sundays to go" and after tomorrow it will read "25 Sundays..". Every week that I have been a minister I have felt like resigning. I began in ministry uneasy with the traditional teachings of the Church. I have lived in ministry questioning these. I have moved to a very "on-the-edge-of-being-Christian" spiritual place where I prefer to call myself a follower of Jesus. I have been and am continually frustrated by the traditional priorities of the Church. The institution, the buildings the "politics" often turn me off! I have a really secular ministry. And yet... I said that?
Last Monday my wife and I were having a quick lunch at a food court in a mall in town. We were talking about the events of the weekend, commenting on the various food outlets, I was "people-watching" (A favourite pastime) and we were chatting about retirement.  It was in this context that I blurted out, "I'm glad I have been a church minister."  As I look back on the variety of experiences I have had, I would not have had them in any other job. I look back at the variety of people whose lives I have been involved in. No other career would have led me to those encounters. I have been able to help instigate a Habitat for Humanity affiliate, a night shelter trust, some innovative community groups and events, our drop-in centre and our Space 2B with the life enhancing groups attached to it. I have travelled the country with my family in a caravan visiting a great variety of locations. I have been chaplain to the fire service, a brewery, a newspaper, and an ambulance service. I have been involved critical incident work in a bank, a scrap metal yard, a concrete prefabricator, a road contractor, an airplane workshop, a pistol club, a wool scouring plant and fire stations in various locations. Today I had morning tea in a race horse stable, rode a tractor and talked to horses. I could go on.
If I was a plumber or a social worker my life would never have had the great variety of experiences I have had. More importantly, I would never have had the in-depth encounters with such a great variety of people and enjoyed their friendships. ( e.g. I visited three fire stations yesterday afternoon and came away from each feeling really privileged to have had the conversations and encounters I had.) I doubt I would have been able to look back and say with the same sense of satisfaction, "I have made a difference in people's living."  It has been hard. I have been like a square peg in a round hole. It has been (at least for me because of my personality) an incredibly busy and stressful existence. But I can say looking back, "I am glad I have been a Church minister." It has been a hell of a journey... so far.
Having said that, in six months time, I will be glad to preach my last sermon, walk off the church platform, clean out my Church office, return the key to the appropriate church elder and walk away to different life adventures as a really retired Church minister and still a follower of Jesus.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Good sorts - Bad sorts.

In New Zealand one of our Television Channels has a segment in the news every Sunday Night called "Good Sorts".  They take the opportunity to highlight the work of some person in the community going the extra mile. It could be some long serving volunteer, or somebody who has initiated a caring program or some person who goes above and beyond the call of duty in their profession. (eg. a long serving community policeman) Well today I thought I would split my post into "Good and Bad sorts" and tell stories from the last few days.
Good Sorts
Tree planting ex-MP 
  - Down our road and around the corner there lives a man who was a Minister of the Crown in the last Labour Government. He was Labour Member for North Dunedin and I always thought he was a good politician. He is now retired from politics and has a big older style house with a great garden. As well as working on his own garden he has beautified the banks of a creek that runs next to his property. Recently I have seen him working on a rough piece of ground over the intersection at the end of our street. It is swampy, was covered in broom bushes and long grass and has not been used for anything in the last 25 years.  He had cleared the gorse and broom and made wood chip covered tracks in various directions. He has been busy planting trees. As I drove to work last Tuesday morning I saw him shoveling wood chips so I stopped and went up to him and asked him about his project. He told me it was city council owned land and he had decided to make tracks and beautifying it with tree planting to make a little forest walk area for the neighbourhood.  Another man had seen him, and joined him in his project. I affirmed what he was doing and commented that when I retired I could join him. He's a "good sort". Well done Pete Hodgson!
Celebrating service 
50 years service- John Bethune
On Saturday I attended a celebration of a guy's fifty years of service in the New Zealand Fire Service as a professional fire fighter and, for a time, as a volunteer.  John is his name and I loved how both his professional and volunteer colleagues and his family went to a great deal of trouble to hold this fifty year medal celebration. They picked him up at his home in a vintage fire truck and delivered him to the fire station for the presentation ceremony.  There was a guard of honour, the mandatory speeches (even from the Mayor) and then the social time with sandwiches, tea, drinks and savouries.  I was so impressed that so many of his past and present colleagues attended the event. I enjoyed catching up with all these emergency service workers and once again loved the warmth of their interaction with me. A fun part of the event was that in the middle of the ceremony the bells and whistles went off and three crews in fire trucks rushed away to a job.  It seemed fitting. 

Bad sorts
Drop-in centre trouble  On Friday Night we had over fifty through the Drop-in centre. Now I like most people, but there are some people who come to our drop-in that I would describe as "repulsive". They are demanding, ungrateful, aggressive and abusive. There were a couple of guys under the weather from alcohol and I suspect drugs. One was unsteady on his feet and playing pool. He upset one of our keen players and there was a brief dispute. One other big lady seated quite a distance away decided to join the fray and came over screaming, yelling abuse and even pushing people violently. We decided she should leave and began to speak to her about this. She shoved my wife violently and two of her friends joined the mayhem at the pool table and started trying to pull one of these alcohol affected guys outside with the intent of beating him up.  I had to physically pull myself between them and command these people to leave. Screaming abuse at us they left, but not before throwing a cup of coffee across the floor. My wife and others, fearful of the fight escalating was ringing the police. Their control room staff were pretty dense in trying to locate our Church ("In the Church on the corner of Fillieul Street and St Andrew Street in Dunedin" makes sense to me??) By the time they had fathomed that, we had everything under control so I told my wife that we did not need them. Both my wife and I were shaken. In eighteen years of running the drop-in centre it was the worst incident we have had. Many of our clients have mental health problems, some have intellectual handicaps, a number have been through prisons and others have socialising issues, so I think we generally do well. I look at the few who cause problems and feel sick. They are such sad specimens of humanity. They are a mess causing mayhem almost everywhere they go. I am really concerned that more and more of these people are wandering around our communities. There are complicated, interrelated and interconnected reasons why they develop in these ways. Our values; our economy; the state of family life; education emphases; etc etc. There are no simplistic answers. These are "bad sorts" that made Friday evening scary.
Car salesman  Last Monday we went and picked up our little caravan from the people who had borrowed it. We realise we have a lot of work to do on her if we want to take off when we retire. We sense we could need a better vehicle, so today we browsed a couple of car yards. One we had visited before and had been annoyed with the salesman who lambasted us with prattle in spite of the fact that we said we were "just browsing".  (Park'n'sell Portsmouth Drive)  Then we said we would never go back. Today we went back and browsed for a while undisturbed.  We both began to head for the car and this man stepped out of the office and headed for us. "No thanks" I yelled as I climbed into the car. My wife said, "No we're fine thank you." But he still walked our way asking, "What are you looking for?" "We're in a hurry, we have to leave." Jean said and waved him off.  He arrived at our car just as I started the motor, and he tapped his phone angrily on our car, "You're being rude!" he shouted.   I was angry. What part of "no" does he not understand?   We definitely will not be going back.  He's a bad sort! 

Today I had a phone call from a firefighter wanting to talk over a problem. I went out and spent an hour with him. It is my job and I don't mind doing it, but it does muck up a day off. Another week of work begins tomorrow. I have 26 Sundays to go.